Five things PR Pros need in their crisis comms toolkit

Richard Bagnall reveals his top tips for managing and measuring communications in a crisis.

7-9 minutes

PR and communications measurement is essential – that’s a fact. It’s even truer in times of crisis, when communications professionals have to re-evaluate and adapt their strategy to keep in-tune with what’s happening in the world. But while measuring in a crisis is essential, it is far from easy. Earlier this year, we co-hosted a webinar with AMEC, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications, in which Richard Bagnall, AMEC Chair and CARMA’s Co-Managing Partner, shared his thoughts on how PR pros should best adapt their approach and effectively measure and evaluate it during times of crisis.

So, what can organizations do to respond to a crisis effectively and learn from it?

Keep communicating, keep advertising

While many are tempted to cut advertising spend, the evidence points towards this being a bad idea.

In fact, a recent report from the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) found that advertising in recession can help firms recover. Their study of 1,000 businesses in the 2001 slump discovered that businesses that increased marketing spend reported higher market share growth in the recovery period compared to those cutting or maintaining budgets. This was confirmed in the 2008 recession, where organizations with higher share of voice (SOV) reported future market share growth far larger than those with little SOV. Richard explains in his webinar that in the Covid-19 crisis, there is a direct correlation between the brands people are hearing about and those which consumers think responded well to the crisis – these crises act as an opportunity to leverage communications and build brand recognition.

Be agile, be nimble

“Any PR plan we had needs to be thrown up and torn away”, says Richard. He breaks this tip down into four helpful actions:

  • Shorten the timeframes – start working month to month.
  • Evaluate techniques – understand that some of your strategies might not be quick enough anymore.
  • Be adaptable – know that it isn’t always going to be about perfection anymore and that ‘good enough’ really is good enough.
  • Learn and grow – iteratively revise plans, strategy and tactics.

Be relevant, not annoying

In the midst of a crisis, you can be pretty certain that people know it’s happening. Authenticity sells, writing to a customer to tell them you’re thinking of them during a crisis doesn’t. Now is the time to add value to your communications, so avoid virtue signaling – it’s not enough to write to a customer to tell them about your policies and procedures. People want to know how their interaction with your organization might be affected by the crisis. Just because we’re in a crisis, don’t lose the ‘what’s in it for me’.

Assume nothing! Be data informed.

In a crisis, everything we thought we knew about our audience is now different.

Whilst people’s values might not have changed all too much, their needs, concerns and behaviors might have. During Covid-19 for instance, our audience’s media consumption, be it the platforms or time of day, may have changed. The webinar explores the ways we might do this – from tools like Google Search Console through to omnibus survey – with the importance being to do your research in order to truly understand your audience right now.

Measure better

We can break this down into four easy-to-follow tips:

1. Remember that measurement matters

Measurement has always mattered, but it matters more now than ever when comms teams are increasingly needing to prove value. What’s important is how you’re measuring what matters – making sure you’ve moved away from those flawed AVEs towards a more integrated evaluation framework that aligns with your organisation and its objectives. It’s something that Richard speaks about in his exclusive seminar with PRCA SEA, revealing international PR and communications measurement and evaluation best practices.

2. Be data informed

It can’t all be about ‘what worked in the past’, this is a crisis after all. Professional communicators should be using real-time data to make an informed decision on today’s reality, not yesterday’s successes. This means using the tools available to you to make decisions as opposed to relying on hunches or previous strategies. This is iterative, too, just because we’ve looked at the data once in a crisis doesn’t mean it won’t rapidly change.

3. Think SCOPE

At CARMA, we use SCOPE to quickly understand what we are measuring and why. As a PR Pro, you need to understand:

Stakeholders (who the measurement is for)

Content (what data sources you should be using)

Objectives (what appropriate targets might be)

Presentation (what the right report formatting might be)

Evolution (what you can learn and how you can improve).

4. Don’t forget your outputs, out-takes, outcomes

The problem with outputs is that they don’t tell us what people now think (out-takes) or what people now do (outcomes). Especially in a crisis, or for an organization under financial pressure, do you really care about outputs alone, or do you want to be knowing what the tangible results are?

You can watch the webinar in full to explore all these ideas and more for free here.

Speak with one of our experienced consultants about your media monitoring and communications evaluation today.